Three trends that will stimulate health IT innovation in 2012

The federal government is opening up its health data and its purse to stimulate health IT innovation.

As the new year rolls in, members of the health care industry will likely be taking a deep breath and steeling themselves for the next wave of healthIT trends. Providers who have their hands full implementing electronic health records, attesting for meaningful use, and changing workflows and documentation processes in preparation for ICD-10 codes will have a tough time squeezing in any other major project.

The upside to all this change is that it has provided a breeding ground for innovators. In the past year, several growing trends in health IT innovation have emerged which experts hope will help bring the industry closer to its goal of improving quality of care while reducing costs. Two of these trends are supported directly by the federal government, including the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), which is spearheading the effort to move America's health care system from paper to electronic health records.

Using prizes and challenges to spur health IT innovation

The use of health IT challenges and competitions to promote innovation is becoming popular. In June, 2011 ONC launched the Investing in Innovation (i2) Initiative, a program designed to stimulate health IT innovation by offering prizes and holding competitions. ONC awarded nearly $5 million to the Capital Consulting Corporation (CCC) and Health 2.0 LLC to manage thei2 Initiative which, in its first year, has promoted seven challenges totaling $350,000 in prizes.

The challenges are designed to help address some of the problems related to implementing EHRs and other new technologies in the health care industry. For example, the Reporting Device Adverse Events challenge seeks to improve upon the current process of collecting adverse event reports from consumers of medical devices, as these become more commonly used.

The winner of the Ensuring Safe Transitions from Hospital to Home Challenge, the Axial Care Transition Suite, is a web-based application that allows health care information to flow along with a patient through all points of care, from first response to hospital and back home. Patients are guided through the discharge process using a tablet-based app that gives them the option of having the pages read aloud, and can include video to help teach them about their condition. The app is designed to encourage patients to participate in their care after leaving the hospital.

Leveraging open health data to improve care and reduce costs

In addition to making prizes available, the government is also making health data available. Just under two years ago, Health & Human Services (HHS) launched the Health Data Initiative, which provides health data harvested from across HHS to the public free of charge and without any intellectual property constraint. The hope is that health IT innovators will turn the data into products, services, features or applications that will ultimately improve public health and health care in many ways.

"The goal is really to spur the emergence of an ecosystem of innovators that leverage this open data in magical ways to improve health and healthcare in ways that no one organization, no 10 organizations, could even think up, let alone execute," said HHS CTO Todd Park during a National eHealth Collaborative webinar.

The health data initiative, which is founded in part by the Institute of Medicine, supports three core activities:

  • Making new health data available for public access while rigorously protecting privacy;
  • Turning existing publicly available data -- that is currently in the form of books, publications, PDF files or static websites -- into computable, machine-readable data;
  • Letting innovators across the country know that the data is available for use.

One way HDI is getting the word out is through its annual Health Data Initiative Forums, more commonly known as Health Datapaloozas. At the second annual Health Datapalooza in 2011, innovators were invited to demonstrate products or services they had built using the open health data provided by HHS. In addition to demonstrating that the products could help consumers, doctors, hospitals, employers and communities, the innovations had to have a sustainable business model.

Applying remote presence technology to improve health care

Several growing trends in health IT innovation have emerged which experts hope will help bring the industry closer to its goal of improving quality of care while reducing costs.

Another area that is ripe for health IT innovation is the use of remote presence technology. Also known as interactive telemedicine, remote presence technology allows patients and physicians to communicate in real time. Advocates hope telemedicine can save money by reducing unnecessary hospital visits, so there is strong incentive to find innovative ways of using this technology in health care.

A program, funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, used remote presence technology to facilitate diagnoses and consultations for sick children in childcare centers and elementary schools in the Rochester, NY area.

Through the Health-e-Access telemedicine program, trained assistants can evaluate children with symptoms of acute illness while in the school or childcare setting, then gather and save the patient data onto a central server where it can be accessed by a pediatrician via the Internet in advance of the remote visit. The assistants use a personal computer, high-resolution camera, videoconferencing equipment, electronic stethoscope and other medical instruments to complete the evaluation and visit.

The program, which was expanded in 2009 and 2010 to include all Rochester city schools, claims to have reduced illness-related absences in children by more than half and emergency department visits by nearly one-fourth.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Anne Steciw, Associate Editor.

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